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Japan Baseball Isn’t That Great

17 May

May 17, 2012

Today I turn over the reins of the site to Allan Keyes, world traveler, baseball fan, and guest blogger. Take it away!

I’d like to thank everyone for the thoughtful – and sometimes funny- comments you all had about my pics of my trip to Japan. I didn’t realize Mr. B was so hard up for content! Seriously though, lest you think I actually had any photo skills, just realize that to get to the few gems presented here, he had to wade through around 800 shots, many not so good.

Japan is an amazing place, and I’d like to share some of my quick takes with you. The first and foremost thing I can tell you all with authority:  JAPANESE BASEBALL IS NOT VERY GOOD.  I spent a lot of time watching (on TV alas) while I was there. Now don’t get me wrong, Japan professional baseball has several things in its favor:

–          The fundamentals level there is higher than it is in the majors

–          They have some world-class pitching talent (on a related note, I was in Tokyo when Yu Darvish pitched against Hideki Kuroda in New York, and the country was going ape-sh*t over that matchup)

–          You never see any players dogging it

–          It’s fun to see washed-up MLB players surface in Japan. (I can report that I did a spit take when I saw Mr. Blog’s favorite player Lastings “L-Millz” Milledge show up and ground out weakly to SS)

–          The television announcers are wonderfully enthusiastic. You know in soccer, when a guy scores and the announcer yells “gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!!!!!” for 20 minutes? That’s the level of energy that the play-by-play guys bring to routine putouts at first.

–          The Yomiuri Giants have a cool logo:


Whenever a Giants player hits a HR, he is the recipient of a stuffed doll of this mascot when he arrives at home plate. At home, if the Giants win, the MVP of the game gets hauled onto the field and he gets a doll as well. Watching grown sweaty athletes treating this doll with the reverence of his grandfather’s urn is touching and amusing at the same time.

–          The fans are really into it. During the home team’s at bats, the designated cheering section has a little band, and they play the team fight song OVER AND OVER.  I can hum the fight songs for the Giants and the Chiba Lotte Marines still.

–          For some reason, the home team is listed on top of the box score graphic, instead of at the bottom like we do here. You have no idea how much that flummoxed me until I figured it out!

–          Snazzy graphics. When a team scores, there’s a nice flashy logo showing the score change.

So with all that, why does Japanese baseball kinda blow? It’s because all of the hitters are wannabe Ichiros. I can’t blame them – the guy is a national hero and bona fide Hall of Fame player.  But there’s not a lot of enjoyment for me in watching a game where the entire battle plan seems to consist of chopping the ball over the infielder’s head, or slapping an opposite field single. Meh. There’s very little power going on out there, shockingly when you consider the legacy of Sadaharu Oh, quite possibly the 2nd greatest homerun hitter who ever lived.  It tends to make for a station-to-station game.  I’ve heard it said that Japanese professional baseball should be considered equal to AAA+ ball here, and I think that’s about right. I’ve also been reading that the league there is in financial trouble, and that makes me sad, because they have a great history, and the fans are very devoted.  Playing a team fight song every inning – even in games where the team is down 6 runs – isn’t something a casual fan does. I’ve also always had a soft spot in my heart for Japan baseball after my all-time favorite manager Bobby Valentine won the Japan Series with perennial also-rans Chiba Lotte.  It is for the sake of this man, that I hope Japan baseball flourishes:

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